Vatican to host Sport and Faith Conference

Cardinal Ravasi with the President of the IOC, Thomas Bach
Cardinal Ravasi with the President of the IOC, Thomas Bach

As the Paralympics get underway in Rio, the Pontifical Council for Culture in the Vatican is preparing for a major conference on sport and faith. World-famous athletes, religious leaders and civil authorities are due to gather for the event entitled  Sport and Faith at the Service of Humanity, which is aimed at exploring how the Faith and Sports communities can better serve humanity.

The conference between 5 and 7 October 2016 is the fruit of a preparatory commission that first met exactly a year ago to consider a cultural and pastoral approach to sports and a major international colloquium on "Faith, Culture and Sport". It was convened by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi who brought together theologians, professional athletes, academics, international and national sports federations, managers, administrators and other interested parties to look at the issues surrounding sport and faith.

The main theme throughout the conference will be the question: What can faith and sport do together for the betterment of humanity? Among the issues it will consider will be the service that can be given to the poor and vulnerable, how tolerance can be promoted, how racial and gender barriers can be reduced, and the effective promotion of inclusion, as well as considering the joy that sport brings to people around the world.

Sharing values through sport

Among those taking part in next month’s conference will be Matt Bassett, the Assistant Vice President and Director of Athletics at Le Moyne College, a Jesuit college in Syracuse, New York, which was founded by the Society of Jesus in 1946 and which has a thriving athletics programme. "I believe the spirit and intent of this conference aligns perfectly with what we have developed here at Le Moyne as our 'Inside the L' program is a highly distinctive and intentional-values driven culture that is deeply rooted in the 500-year old traditions of Jesuit, Catholic education,” said Mr Bassett. “We aspire to live and to share those values as a community, through athletics each and every day."

Since 2011, the Le Moyne athletic community has considered the question, 'What does a distinctly Jesuit intercollegiate athletic experience mean and what does it look like in action?’ And Fr David McCallum SJ, vice president for mission integration and development at Le Moyne, believes that sport forms an integral part of students’ formation. "As a Jesuit institution, we seek to develop men and women for others, who are committed to social justice and service for the greater good," he says. "Under Matt's leadership, those involved with athletics at Le Moyne - from students to coaches to administrators - are dedicated to living the Jesuit mission through their actions, words and deeds."Pupils at Donhead - one of the Jesuit schools in Britain at which sport is a key element of the curriculum

The conference, Sport and Faith at the Service of Humanity, will be officially opened on 5 October by Pope Francis; the event is supported by the International Olympics Committee and the United Nations. Following a meeting with the President of the IOC, Thomas Bach, Cardinal Ravasi said: “It will be an occasion to come together to face up to the great challenges of contemporary society, which are shared interests for the world’s sporting and religious communities: how to live with respect for all, with increased understanding of each other’s traditions and values, more full and healthy lives, more integrated communities. Sport is also of such fundamental importance for education, allowing young people especially to open up to the trials of life, putting themselves to the test, crossing boundaries, meeting opponents on a fair playing field while striving to the best they can be, in some sense aiming for the Transcendent.”